Gates Foundation Funds New Microchip For Biologically Embedding Patient Data

Researchers are working on novel microchips the size of pepper flakes that can track and log sample data constantly keeping a patient's medical records accurately updated.

The University of California Riverside reported that assistant professor of bioengineering in Bourns College of Engineering William Grover was awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support his work on a technology to biologically embed patient data. The award is the Grand Challenges Explorations Grant and will fund Grover's lab in the development of data-enabled microchips.

"Grover’s lab is using microchips to embed patient data directly in biological samples, making it impossible to separate a sample from a patient’s medical record. Each chip has a unique serial number read using a handheld chip reader. The number is linked to the patient’s record in a database or paper file," reads the University's statement.

Chips the sizes of pepper flakes

These truly 'micro' microchips are said to be no larger than a "flake of pepper" leading the university to say that patients can be “salted” with them during collection. Once this process has been done the chips remain permanently inside the sample.

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A chip reader tracks and logs the sample’s location and accompanying results, ensuring patients' medical records are continuously and nearly immediately updated. This feature is particularly useful in circumstances where sample analysis requires long travels.

In those cases, data errors abound and lives are often put at stake. Grover's new microchips would provide a safe and efficient alternative particularly to medical experts and healthcare professionals operating in the tricky data-acquiring landscape of the developing world.

Grover is cooperating with the technical team at PharmaSeq Inc., responsible for engineering the current microchip technology used, as well with associate professor of computer science and engineering in Bourns College of Engineering Philip Brisk. Brisk's specialties include embedded system design and application specific and customizable processors.

Patient privacy protected

In order to protect patient privacy, the chips will only contain identification numbers ensuring patient’s more personal data is truly kept confidential. Research on the chips is ongoing and Gates' funding will now allow Grover's team to study any potential effects the chips might have on samples and vice versa.

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Studies will also be done to evaluate if the chips will require special coatings or handling. The grant, part of a $100 million initiative funded by the Gates Foundation, will last 18 months.

Grand Challenges Explorations was launched "to engage more of the world’s innovators more quickly" to hopefully produce solutions to some of the world's most persistent "global health and development challenges." To date, over 1,365 projects in more than 65 countries have received the prestigious grant open to anyone from any discipline.

Grover's lab website says his team is "passionate about developing instruments" and "tools that accelerate the process of developing new instruments." Their techniques "can be applied in a wide variety of different fields, including medical diagnostics, materials science, toxicology, and many others."

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